Biden Establishes Office of Climate Change & Health Equity
by Rhyann Green
On August 30, 2021, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) established the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity (OCCHE). The office will be led by a National Institutes of Health official, John Balbus, for an interim period.
The establishment follows an earlier order from President Biden made on January 27, 2021. In the original press statement, the administration highlighted several ways in which it intended to make climate change a priority of this presidency, including creating new jobs through building clean energy, land and water conservation efforts, collecting input from farmers about the best agriculture practices for the climate, and more.
On the OCCHE’s website, the administration has provided resources for understanding the driving forces behind the officer’s creation. Equity is underscored as a priority in the introduction: “While the impacts of climate change will be felt by all Americans, they will be deeper and longer lasting among the poor, people of color and other populations.”
The website also displays the ways in which climate drivers, such as increased temperatures and extreme weather events can lead to exposure pathways, including reduced food and water quality, poor air quality, and population displacement. From there, these pathways can lead to health outcomes: food, water, and vector-borne illnesses, mental health struggles, and heat-related illnesses.
The CDC also has a resource page dedicated to the various health effects related to climate change. Within their food security analysis, the organization describes how climate change can influence changes in food before it even reaches the tables of consumers: “…the nutritional value of some foods is projected to decline. Elevated atmospheric CO2 is associated with decreased plant nitrogen concentration, and therefore decreased protein, in many crops, such as barley, sorghum, and soy.”
According to the New York Times, the President requested a budget of $3 million for the office, which is still awaiting final approval from congress.